What are magic mushrooms?

“Magic mushrooms” or “shrooms” are colloquial terms for a group of fungi that contain the naturally occurring psychedelic substances psilocybin and psilocin. These compounds are found in approximately 200 different species of Basidiomycota mushrooms under varied genera throughout the world though the majority occur in subtropical, humid forests.

It’s speculated these fungi evolved psilocybin through horizontal gene transfer in order to suppress the appetite of various insects that may eat them. The evolution of chemical compounds in flora as a defense mechanism is well researched and shown in other substances such as camphor and capsaicin.

In preparation for human consumption the mushrooms are dried. These delicate fungi will also develop a rich indigo blue colour when cut or bruised in the harvesting and transportation process. This occurs with the oxidization of the psilocybin compound as it becomes injured. It is still unknown the purpose of this rich pigment, current theory is it acts as on on-demand insect repellent upon the insect’s initial bites. Psilocybe mushrooms may also turn blue as they age as a result of further oxidization. The presence of more or less indigo pigment on the dried mushrooms is not indicative of a mushroom’s strength or quality.

What is psilocybin?

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic prodrug compound. Being a prodrug, the body quickly converts the consumed phosphorylated psilocybin into psilocin.

Psilocin is a substituted tryptamine alkaloid and a serotonergic psychedelic substance. This is what causes the mind-altering affects associated with magic mushrooms. At a base level psilocin is structurally alike to serotonin and it’s affects are thought to come from its activity in the serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex.  Unlike other hallucinogens like LSD, psilocin has no significant effect on the dopamine receptors. Its half-life is approximately from 1 to 3 hours.

The effects caused by psilocybin are similar to a sympathetic arousal state. Common effects are: tachycardia, dilated pupils, euphoria, increased body temperature, headache, sweating and chills, nausea, panic. At medium and higher doses one can experience open and closed eye visuals, synesthesia, visual and mental hallucinations, changes in perception, distorted sense of time, and spiritual experiences.

It is nearly impossible to predict how each individual person will react to varied dosages. Environment, respective personal chemistry, varied dosages, and initial mindset can all influence the experience a person will have.

There is virtually no direct lethality associated with psilocin nor withdrawal syndrome when regular usage of the drug is ceased.


Mushroom dosages can vary greatly per person and type of mushroom. It is advised that “trip” dosages are taken gradually to accommodate potency variables and any potential common adverse reactions such as nausea or vomiting.

Dosing with mushrooms is most commonly done in grams with dried material. The mushrooms can be ingested in many different ways; ground up, pills, candy, tea, eaten with food, or simply eating the dried mushrooms as they are.

0.2g-0.5g is a very low dosage commonly used for Microdosing. There will be no viusals, no loss of control. See [Microdosing] for more information.

0.5g-1.0g is still on the lower dose scale of things. This dosage will amount in a small energy boost and assist in creative processes.

1.0g-2.0g is a beginner’s dose. An individual may experience some physical symptoms, giddiness, and deep conversations.

2.0g-3.0g is a psychedelic trip. At this dose a person should experience varied physical symptoms, change in perception and visuals.

3.0g-4.0g is what’s regarded as a Hero’s dose. This amount should only be taken by experienced psychonauts and at this dosage an individual will likely experience physical symptoms, visuals, and intense spiritual or mental discoveries.


Microdosing mushrooms is the act of regularly taking a nearly imperceptible amount (commonly dried and in pill form) of Psilocybe mushrooms with the intention of receiving multiple benefits such as increased creativity and problem solving, improved emotional state, and an increase in perception.

A recent gain in popularity has brought this trend to the forefront and has resulted in studies attempting to gain quantitative research on the subject. Due to the issues with the legality of psilocybin and psilocin, there is still a distinct absence of concrete information and research. However, this change of public perception has also caused greater scientific, therapeutic, and medical interest in the uses of these compounds resulting in a burgeoning increase in research.

Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Throughout History

Human consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms predates recorded history. They can be seen in Stone Age rock art in Africa and Europe and are most famously recognized in the Pre-Columbian sculptures and glyphs seen throughout the Americas.

Rock art at Selva Pascuala in Spain appears to depict a row of mushrooms. Credit: Juan Francisco Ruiz López
Rock art at Selva Pascuala in Spain appears to depict a row of mushrooms. Credit: Juan Francisco Ruiz López

Human consumption of hallucinogenic mushrooms predates recorded history. They can be seen in Stone Age rock art in Africa and Europe and are most famously recognized in the Pre-Columbian sculptures and glyphs seen throughout the Americas.

Psilocybe mushrooms have a strong history amongst the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica from pre-Columbian time to present day. Their properties have been used for religious communion, divination, and healing. The Spanish conquest of the Aztecs brought in Catholic missionaries who quickly suppressed the use of hallucinogens and many other traditions. This brought on more covert usages and a diminishment of those who participated in the traditional practices until the 1950s.

Maya mushroom stones. Credit: Dr Richard Rose
Maya mushroom stones. Credit: Dr Richard Rose

In 1955 Valentina Pavlovna Wasson and R. Gordon Wasson took part in an indigenous mushroom ceremony. The Wassons intensively publicized their experiences, publishing an article in Life Magazine in 1957, and bringing a sample from Mexico that was later identified by Roger Heim as belonging to the Psilocybe genus. A short while later in 1958 Albert Hofmann of Sandoz Laboratories first identified and synthesized the active compounds psilocybin and psilocin in the mushrooms.

With his research Sandoz was able to market psilocybin as Indocybin for use in psychopharmacological and therapeutic clinical research leading to a significant increase in popularity aligning with the rise of the 1960s. The cultural influence of the 1960s brought even more attention towards psilocybin and other hallucinogens. By the early 1970s many areas in British Columbia were well known for productive Liberty Cap mushroom fields. The escalating public response in the 1970s political climate ultimately resulted in it being made illegal in Canada in late 1974.

Over the past three decades psilocybin has slowly made a positive return to the general public and has increasingly been a subject of study and research. Old myths about the danger of psilocybin have been debunked and new discoveries are being made in the benefits in psychopharmacological and therapeutic uses.

There has been a rapid increase in government exemptions in Canada for the use of psilocybin in treatment for trauma patients and the terminally ill suffering from end-of-life anxiety. The University of Toronto Mississauga in 2019 created the Psychedelic Studies Research Program (PSRP) with a dedication to understanding the potential of microdosing.  As of December 2020 seventeen healthcare professionals have been approved by the Federal Health Minister, Patty Hadju, to possess and use psilocybin for professional training in psilocybin-assisted therapy.


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